Classes resuming in Newtown, minus Sandy Hook, as mourners gather at funerals

By Michael Melia

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 18 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Schoolchildren look out the window of their bus as they head back to school in Newtown, Conn., Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012.

Associated Press

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NEWTOWN, Conn. — With security stepped up and families still on edge in Newtown, students began returning to school Tuesday for the first time since last week's massacre, bringing a return of familiar routines — at least, for some — to a grief-stricken town as it buries 20 of its children.

A 6-year-old boy and a 6-year-old girl were laid to rest Tuesday, the latest in a long, almost unbearable procession of funerals. A total of 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in one of the worst mass shootings in U.S history.

Buses ferrying students to schools were festooned with large green-and-white ribbons on the front grills, the colors of Sandy Hook, as classes resumed for all Newtown schools except the stricken elementary school.

At Newtown High School, students in sweat shirts and jackets, many wearing headphones, betrayed mixed emotions. Some waved at or snapped photos of the assembled media horde, and others appeared visibly shaken.

"There's going to be no joy in school," said 17-year-old senior P.J. Hickey. "It really doesn't feel like Christmas anymore."

At St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Newtown, back-to-back funerals were held for first-graders James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos, the first of eight to be held in the coming days at the church.

As mourners gathered outside, a motorcade led by police motorcycles arrived for the funeral of little James, who especially loved recess and math, and whose family described as a "numbers guy" who couldn't wait until he was old enough to order a foot-long Subway sandwich.

The service had not yet concluded when mourners began arriving for the funeral of Jessica, who loved horses and was counting the years until she turned 10, when her family had promised her a horse of her own. For Christmas, she had asked Santa for new cowgirl boots and hat.

"We are devastated, and our hearts are with the other families who are grieving as we are," her parents, Rich and Krista Rekos, said in a statement.

Traffic in front of the church slowed to a crawl as police directed vehicles into the church parking lot. At one point a school bus carrying elementary school students became stuck in the traffic. The children pressed their faces into the windows, sadly watching as mourners assembled at the church

At the high school, students didn't expect to get much work done Tuesday and spent much of the day talking about the terrible events of last week carried out by 20-year-old Adam Lanza.

"We're going to be able to comfort each other and try and help each other get through this because that's the only way we're going to do it. Nobody can do this alone," Hickey said.

Sophomore Tate Schwab agreed."It's definitely better than just sitting at home watching the news," he said. "It really hasn't sunk in yet. It feels to me like it hasn't happened. It's really weird."

As for concerns about safety, the students were defiant.

"This is where I feel the most at home," Hickey said. "I feel safer here than anywhere else in the world."

Some parents kept their children at home anyway Tuesday, as local police and school officials planned how and where to increase security. State police said they were on alert for threats and hoaxes.

One Newtown school, Head O'Meadow Elementary, was reportedly locked down Tuesday due to an unspecified threat. The principal told parents to keep their children home, according to a letter from the principal published by WFSB-TV.

Authorities say the horrible events of Friday began when Lanza shot his mother, Nancy, at their home, then took her car and some of her guns to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary, where he broke in and opened fire.

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